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British law restricts libel suits

LONDON — London’s reputation as the libel capital of the world, ‘‘a town called sue,’’ is poised to end.

A law enacted Thursday strengthens the position of people sued for libel here and ends most cases of so-called libel tourism, the practice by which powerful foreigners — Russian oligarchs, Arab oil magnates, and large corporations, among others — have brought libel cases against authors, journalists, academics, scientists, and bloggers, often based on the most tenuous of connections to England.

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Under the new law, claimants wanting to sue defendants who do not live in Europe will have to prove that England is the most appropriate place for the case.

The new law applies only to England and Wales; Scotland and Northern Ireland have different systems.

The law does not upend the basic premise of English libel cases, that the burden of proof rests with the person being sued, rather than the plaintiff. It strengthens a defendant’s position in a number of ways, however, making it harder for aggrieved parties to sue and easier for people to defend themselves.

For instance, people who sue will now have to prove that the speech at issue has caused, or is likely to cause, serious harm to their reputations. Corporations and other entities that sue will have to prove that they have incurred, or are likely to incur, serious financial loss.


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